By Matt Turer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Team: Rolla Lady Bulldogs
Coach: Kenny Hohe
2019 Results: 18-12 (Lost 16-4 to Kickapoo in Class 4 sectionals)
Opening Day 2020: Aug. 28 vs. Carthage
Rolla Lady Bulldogs softball spent 2019 just completely breaking through. First winning record since 2013? Did that. First district championship since 2012? Did that too.
The past two seasons under previous head coach Jessica Zink Cook saw Rolla go 27-26 after the program was just 20-67 from 2014 through 2017. Zink Cook stepped down after last season and Rolla handed head coaching duties over to assistant Kenny Hohe, who plans on this recent success continuing.
“A major factor behind our momentum is the last two years we have started a majority of underclassmen, but this year we will start a majority of juniors and seniors,” Hohe said. “We believe the experience they have gained over the last two seasons will help us to hit the ground running.”
Hohe has been Rolla baseball’s head coach since 2018 and views the double-duty as nothing but a blessing.
“Planning is the key to create balance between the two programs,” Hohe said. “I have tremendous assistants [in] Andrew Lott and Megan Heimbaugh [for softball] and Aaron Noellsch, Brian Owens and James Trusler [for baseball], and know I can leave the teams in their hands for a day or two and we as a program will not miss a beat.’
“The ability to work with young men and women on a daily basis is an awesome experience. Coaching two sports gives me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful and dedicated coaches from around the state, and the knowledge I gain is invaluable for our players. Drills, exercises, strategy, all of the things that go into coaching are enhanced by being around the sports more often.”
Hohe inherits a young roster that graduated only two seniors from last year’s Class 4 District 9 championship team.
“We keep the momentum going by bringing back a large number of our regulars from last season, and personally being in the program the last two seasons the transition to head coach has gone smoothly for not only the coaching staff, but also the players,” Hohe said.
Second Team All-Region infielder Emalee Grooms graduated, but Rolla has five All-Ozark Conference players returning on a roster with just two seniors in corner infielder/DH Maycie Montgomery and outfielder Kassidy Chrisco.
Montgomery slashed .273/.349/.338 last season with 20 runs and 14 RBIs. Chrisco led the team (among players who played 20 games) with a .437 average, had a .529 on-base percentage and a 1.135 OPS, driving in 29 runs and scoring 31 times.
“These two young ladies will hit in the middle of our lineup and provide invaluable leadership for the rest of the program,” Hohe said. “Both of these ladies have been starters for three years and we are thrilled to see them take charge during their senior seasons as leaders and players.”
Rolla’s junior class includes a number of names who will be entering their third year as varsity starters in their third year of high school. Meaning there’s certainly no lack of experience to be found.
That talented class includes catcher Keira Chrisco, corner infielder/pitcher Makenzie McCarter, corner infielder/pitcher Riley Wassilak, outfielder Reagan Reedy, outfielder Madison Mace, middle infielder/pitcher Sierra Spencer and infielder Zoey Barr.
“One of the strongest classes in recent Rolla history is our junior class,” Hohe said. “They will be counted on heavily for production both offensively and defensively. Many of our top pitchers are in this class and should help stabilize our pitching staff.”
Keira Chrisco’s 2019 stat line is borderline eye-popping. As a sophomore, she churned out 14 triples, five doubles and two home runs while finishing with 44 runs and 28 RBIs. To get there, she hit .408 with a 1.265 OPS.
While not currently listed in the MSHSAA record book, Chrisco’s 14 triples would stand as an all-time single-season state record. The current listed record-holder is Doniphan’s Hailee Deckard, set in 2004.
“She is a force offensively and is a weapon defensively behind the plate,” Hohe said.
McCarter is expected to hit in the middle of the Lady Bulldogs lineup after 14 extra-base hits and a .397/.510/.590 slash line in 2019, and Reedy hit .373 with 19 RBIs and 28 runs last season.
Barr played in just 15 games, but was among team leaders with a .438 average.
Sophomore middle infielder Taylor Heimbaugh (.244 AVG, .370 OBP) is also back after seeing time as a varsity starter as a freshman.
Junior catcher/outfielder Laney Hoffman, sophomores Adalie Lauth (MI), Hailey Adams (OF), Kiara Webber (P) and Hannah Hoss (CI/SP), and freshman pitcher Madison Hamby will fill out the roster.
Challenges from COVID-19 and jamboree
Like most teams, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on how the Lady Bulldogs have prepared for the 2020 season.
“As many people know, COVID-19 has changed the way we do a lot of things with sports, education, work, and life,” Hohe said. “Instead of seeing them as challenges I see things as new opportunities.”
To adapt, the team has implemented more small group and one-on-one workouts this summer, and the limits placed on on-field time have allowed the coaching staff to focus on pieces of the game that impact the game and their players the most.
“This definitely isn’t an ideal situation, but an underrated skill is the ability to adapt and change on the fly, and I certainly think COVID-19 has made many look outside the box on how to train, workout, and improve,” Hohe said.
The Lady Bulldogs are scheduled to jamboree at Waynesville High School on August 21 with the host Tigers and Washington High School.